NETHERLANDS - Headcount cuts and increased regulatory oversight will push the Netherlands toward a consultant-mediated pension model resembling that in the UK, according to Wietse de Vries, who yesterday joined consultancy Almazara as a partner.

The former ING Real Estate fund manager said: "Scrutiny by pension fund authorities has increased dramatically. Pension funds are finding they need a second opinion to make sure their reduced staff are on the right track."

He added: "What pension funds want to know first and foremost is what knowledge you bring. They want 'street smarts'. They're looking for independent advice on strategy and implementation - advice that isn't tied to the funds of large international firms."

De Vries, who for the past two years has worked at GCC as an adviser, will at Almazara advise pension funds on indirect investments in real estate and infrastructure with a global focus.

"For a number of pension funds, going global has been the reality of investing in real estate - especially large ones because their domestic market is not big enough," he said.

"Because the Netherlands is a small market, almost by definition, their investment programmes have to be global."

He pointed to parallel trends over the past five years, with some pension schemes expanding within and outside Europe, and others retreating into their home territory.

"They've de-risked to the extent they were able to - and regulation limits the extent to which they were able to - focused on core, and deleveraged.

"They recognise investing in Europe, even within the euro-zone, gave them better risk-related returns.

"My guess is that most pension funds will remain risk-averse, not necessarily because of real estate markets, but because of volatility issues in capital markets and uncertain economic growth.

"That's making them look again at real estate to see whether new storms are coming."